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Balancing act: Greg Kratz: Survey shows parents crave flexibility in pursuit of work-life balance

More employers choose to stay at their job for work-life balance as opposed to higher pay, co-workers and benefits.
More employers choose to stay at their job for work-life balance as opposed to higher pay, co-workers and benefits.

As I mentioned in last week's "A-to-Z" column, job flexibility is vital for anyone who wants to find work-life balance.

Unfortunately, flexibility also can be hard to find.

That was shown in a recent "Parents & Work" survey conducted by FlexJobs, an online service for flexible, part-time, telecommuting and freelance job listings.

The FlexJobs survey of 725 parents who are interested in flexible jobs showed that 81 percent were "very optimistic" that they could be both great employees and great parents, and 97 percent said that a flexible job would help them be better parents in some way.

However, many of those surveyed said they had struggled when it came to flexibility at work.

"One common example of that work-life conflict is sick children," said the FlexJobs press release about the survey. "Eighty-one percent of parents have missed work to take care of a sick child, and 58 percent have worried about losing pay or their job because of it.

"As a result of this fear, 42 percent of parents have chosen to miss important events in their children's lives, and 57 percent have used sick time or paid time off to attend those events."

I've written about this exact problem before, and I was reminded how complicated it can be during the holiday season that just passed.

Fortunately, my job offered the flexibility I needed to attend several holiday concerts and programs at my children's school. But even though I knew it was OK with my boss for me to attend, it was still stressful to miss an hour or two of work here and there.

Several other parts of the FlexJobs survey were equally interesting to me. For example, 89 percent of respondents said flexible work options would be the most important factor in their next job choice, far ahead of pay, at 50 percent; feeling good about the company, the people and the corporate culture, at 44 percent; having a relatively short commute, at 36 percent; and finding a job in line with their career path, at 34 percent.

“I think that employers should really be paying attention when parents in this day and age choose workplace flexibility over money,” said Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, in the press release. "Many employers — and even job-seekers — think these jobs are on the fringe of the employment market, but with technology making it so much easier to work from anywhere and anytime, it just isn’t true anymore.

"Seventy-five percent of those surveyed know another parent who has a telecommuting or flexible job. This generation of parents is focused on balancing their professional and family obligations, and they don’t want to let one overrun the other."

I believe she's correct. As I've written about work-life balance for the last year or so, I've been surprised by how many people have told me the topic strikes a chord with them.

In talking to them, I've heard that those who have found better balance also have felt that their productivity at work actually improved along with their increased flexibility.

In the FlexJobs survey, 95 percent of respondents said workplace flexibility would let them be more productive or as productive in their jobs, and 84 percent said they would miss fewer work days from sickness or unplanned absences if they could occasionally work from home.

For employers concerned about their communities, allowing flexibility could have another benefit. According to the survey, 89 percent of parents said that a flexible job would let them spend more time volunteering in their children's school and with other activities, and 50 percent of those people would be first-time volunteers.

I can confirm the value of volunteering in school. While my wife is now serving as co-president of the PTA in our younger children's elementary school and spends a huge amount of time there, I have thoroughly enjoyed the less-frequent opportunities I've had to volunteer.

For example, I was able to take a half-day off work last year to help with Halloween parties at school, and it was a wonderful experience. It was great to meet some of my children's classmates and put faces with the names I hear so often. It also helped me get to know their teachers a bit better, and I appreciated that opportunity.

"It’s clear from the results that allowing parents the option to work from home would give them more time to give back to their community and also get them back into the work force,” Fell said in the press release.

I know this survey focused on people who already were interested in flexible jobs, but I still think we can learn a lot from it as workers, managers and companies. If we can build more balance between our work and family lives, it's possible that everyone will benefit.

That's the kind of winning proposition all of us should be able to support.

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